Erdogan-Merkel

A Tough Relationship Gets Tougher

ISTANBUL, TURKEY - MAY 23 : Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) attend the High-Level Leaders' Roundtables meeting on "Political Leadership to Prevent and End Conflicts" at the Emirgan Hall (ICC) within the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, Turkey on May 23, 2016. Salih Zeki Fazlioglu / Anadolu Agency [ Rechtehinweis: picture alliance / abaca ]
The Turkish and German leaders aren't having the smoothest of relationships these days.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The Turkish government’s aggressive efforts to target supporters of a coup could complicate an already testy relationship between Germany and Turkey.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has blamed a recent coup against him on Fethullah Gülen, who lives in self-imposed exile in the United States and denies the charges.
    • According to estimates, there are 300,000 to 400,000 Turks in Germany who are loyal to Mr. Gülen.
    • Turkey already recalled its ambassador in Berlin over an Armenia resolution. The German ambassador to Germany in Ankara, Martin Erdmann, said he hasn’t been able to get an appointment with any representatives from the government since.
  • Audio

    Audio

  • Pdf

 

It’s been an aggressive purge. In the wake of the attempted coup against the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, his government has been punishing followers of the Turkish preacher, former imam, writer, and political figure Fethullah Gülen, who lives in self-imposed exile in the United States.

Mr. Erdoğan blames Mr. Gülen for the coup, a charge the imam denies. He has already persecuted Gülen followers that live in Turkey.

Now Mr. Erdoğan wants to pursue Gülen followers in other countries too, including Germany, where members of his family are said to live.

The Turkish foreign minister Mevlüt Cavusoglu told reporters on CNN Türk that he knows many Gülen followers who are in Germany. “It is necessary to extradite them,” he said in the interview.

The demand could be extremely tricky for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, coming at a moment when Germany’s relations with Turkey are going through a sensitive phase. Ms. Merkel needs the country’s help to stem the flow of refugees into Europe and consequently Germany.

This adds to the already strained relationship between Germany and Turkey. The two NATO members have come to face a series of challenges lately, mostly tied to the refugee crisis.

Mr. Cavusoglu didn’t specify in the interview who he wanted to have extradited. But he hinted that he may even go after judges and attorneys who live in Germany and are said to be Gulen followers.

Experts say Mr. Cavusoglu could talking about former attorneys Zekeriya Öz and Celal Kara. Mr. Öz is said to have been in Germany since 2015 and has led corruption trials against leading members of the Turkish government.

According to estimates, there are 300,000 to 400,000 Turks in Germany who are loyal to Mr. Gülen. The group is organized in a foundation here called “Stiftung Dialog und Bildung” – “Foundation for Dialogue and Education” – which is active in all major cities in areas such as private schools, residences and other institutions.

But according to German authorities, the two attorneys were unable to be located here.

In any case, it could be difficult to extradite both men to Turkey according to German and European law. An extradition can only be allowed if the accused are guaranteed a lawful prosecution. Amnesty International has accused Turkey of using torture and other methods in their prosecution of people who are against the government.

This adds to the already strained relationship between Germany and Turkey. The two NATO members have come to face a series of challenges lately, mostly tied to the refugee crisis.

The European Union and Turkey reached an agreement to halt the influx of Syrian refugees coming to Europe. Since the agreement, the flow of refugees has greatly decreased.

In exchange, Turkey has requested other concessions from the European Union, including visa-free travel for Turkish citizens, which has been denied.

Other incidents that have caused the relationship between Germany and Turkey to deteriorate further involved a German comedian, who read a poem insulting the President Erdoğan on national television in Germany. Turkey insists the comedian should be punished for insulting Mr. Erdoğan and wants him prosecuted.

On top of that, the German parliament backed a resolution that labels the killing of hundreds of thousands of Christian Armenians at the end of World War I at the hands of the Ottoman Turks as “genocide.”

Following the resolution, Turkey recalled its ambassador in Berlin. The German ambassador to Germany in Ankara, Martin Erdmann, said he hasn’t been able to get an appointment with any representatives from the government since the vote.

The Turkish coup response is now one more massive challenge. Mr. Erdoğan has been aggressive in the past week, arresting thousands of people, and is considering the reintroduction of the death penalty.

He dismissed 60,000 people from the army, police, justice and academia, arrested almost 20,000 people and seized assets from attorneys and judges who he thinks have been involved in the coup. In addition, he has targeted hundreds of media outlets, including newspapers, radio stations and websites.

After the recent failed coup, German Chancellor Merkel called on Mr. Erdoğan to act reasonably in reaction to it. Exactly what she might do about it remains to be seen.

 

Gerd Höhler is Handelsblatt’s correspondent in Greece and also covers Turkey. Franziska Scheven of Handelsblatt Global Edition also contributed to this story. To contact the author: hoehler@handelsblatt.com 

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